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IPFS News Link • Energy

How new tech is making geothermal energy a more versatile power source


Glistening in the dry expanses of the Nevada desert is an unusual kind of power plant that harnesses energy not from the sun or wind, but from the Earth itself.

Known as Project Red, it pumps water thousands of feet into the ground, down where rocks are hot enough to roast a turkey. Around the clock, the plant sucks the heated water back up to power generators. Since last November, this carbon-free, Earth-borne power has been flowing onto a local grid in Nevada.

Geothermal energy, though it's continuously radiating from Earth's super-hot core, has long been a relatively niche source of electricity, largely limited to volcanic regions like Iceland where hot springs bubble from the ground. But geothermal enthusiasts have dreamed of sourcing Earth power in places without such specific geological conditions—like Project Red's Nevada site, developed by energy startup Fervo Energy.

Such next-generation geothermal systems have been in the works for decades, but they've proved expensive and technologically difficult, and have sometimes even triggered earthquakes. Some experts hope that newer efforts like Project Red may now, finally, signal a turning point, by leveraging techniques that were honed in oil and gas extraction to improve reliability and cost-efficiency.

The advances have garnered hopes that with enough time and money, geothermal power—which currently generates less than 1 percent of the world's electricity, and 0.4 percent of electricity in the United States—could become a mainstream energy source. Some posit that geothermal could be a valuable tool in transitioning the energy system off of fossil fuels, because it can provide a continuous backup to intermittent energy sources like solar and wind. "It's been, to me, the most promising energy source for a long time," says energy engineer Roland Horne of Stanford University. "But now that we're moving towards a carbon-free grid, geothermal is very important."